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Cash crunch hits House of Reps

The cut in the budget of the National Assembly from N150bn to N120bn is beginning to hit members of the House of Representatives hard, resulting in unpaid salaries.

The 360-member legislature has not paid the June and July salaries of lawmakers.

Findings by The PUNCH on Thursday showed that the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, took hours to lament the poor financial situation of the House during a crucial meeting with his colleagues in Abuja.

Delayed releases by the finance ministry has also been identified as one of the factors contributing to the cash crunch facing the lawmakers.

The late-night meeting was convened in one of the halls at the New Wing of the House, away from prying eyes of non-members.

"Well, members were beginning to ask questions about payments; their due salaries and other entitlements.

"The speaker came to open the books and to complain that he too is handicapped because there is no money," a senior House member confided in The PUNCH.

Investigations showed that the lawmakers were expected to receive about N18m each in June when they arrived in Abuja for the new term.

The money was to cover accommodation, furniture and other provisions worked out in line with percentages in their template.

However, they were said to have been paid only N10m as the House leadership simply said it could not afford the N18m.

"Car loan in particular was deferred; so for now, there is nothing like car or loans for that purpose," the lawmaker who briefed our correspondent said.

The PUNCH learnt on Thursday that during Tuesday's meeting with the speaker, the lawmakers also got another shocker when Dogara announced that the House could not afford to procure utility vehicles for them this year.

The utility vehicles are officially attached to committees for oversight duties but in reality are in the custody of the members.

Members simply take along such vehicles with them at the expiration of their tenure after paying a fraction of the purchase price to the Management of the National Assembly on terms agreed by both parties.

It was gathered that Tuesday's meeting was called on the heels of complaints by members that they had yet to receive bank alerts for their June and July salaries.

There were also said to be complaints over general cash crunch in the House, with some services facing challenges.

Another member of the House, who was at the meeting spoke more, "It was to present the situation as it is; the accounts are low.

"Knowing the way this place operates, soon, someone could start a rumour that the leadership is sitting on the money of members.

"The reality is that there is no money; the cut in the budget is beginning to bite everybody.

"The speaker went to the meeting with the template for the entitlements of every member for frank discussions.

"Everyone now knows what they are supposed to get and if they are not able to get it, they know why."

When contacted, the Special Assistant to the Speaker on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, declined to speak on the issue.

Hassan referred our correspondent to the Chairman, Ad hoc Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Sani Zoro.

"Call Sani Zoro; being a House matter, he is the appropriate person to speak on it," he said.

When our correspondent called Zoro, he claimed not to know that such a meeting took place.

"Was there any meeting like that? Let me get across to the speaker and I will call you," he said.

As of the time of filing this report on Thursday, Zoro had not called back.

But, in the chamber, the House mandated one of its adhoc committees to investigate the alleged retrieval of N1.17bn from the account of the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority by the Ministry of Finance.

Mr. Musa Sarkin-Ada, in a motion he moved on the issue, claimed that the money was paid into the account of the agency for projects it executed in 2014.

Sarkin-Ada said the money was paid into the agency's account with a commercial bank on March 11 this year.

"On April 11, the ministry inexplicably made the bank to return the money to it, an action that rendered the authority incapable of discharging its constitutional obligations."

He added that a series of complaints the agency made to the ministry over the matter had not received serious attention.

The House resolved to mandate its ad hoc committee to investigate the issue and produce a report within one month.

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